Monday, August 31, 2015

“Pinned and Wriggling on the Wall”

“I have heard the slander of many.  Fear was on every side.”
David, in Psalms 31:13a

In his poem, “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”, T. S. Eliot included a line that I have never been able to forget since the first time I read it in high school.  That line is this: “When I am pinned and wriggling on the wall, . . .”  The imagery of that phrase is brilliant; it describes the utter helplessness felt by someone stuck in a situation beyond his control.  The man in Eliot’s poem felt as helpless as an insect caught by an insect collector and pinned to a specimen board along with other insects.  The only remaining reason for that poor creature to exist, then, is to be a gazingstock for the curious, an object to be talked about the way visitors to an art museum gaze at artwork and then discuss it among themselves.  “Pinned and wriggling on the wall.”  Not quite dead yet, but immobilized and unable to escape the fatal pin through the mid-section.
The invisible pin that immobilizes and kills people is talk, and the collector that pins righteous people with an evil reputation is Satan.  Once pinned, a person may wriggle in protest for a short while, as insects may do when they are pinned to the specimen board; however, there is no escape, and soon the pinned individual becomes to everyone only what he is labeled as, and nothing more.  In the end, he becomes no more than a thing to be looked at and commented upon, and eventually he decays in his appointed spot, along with the other lifeless specimens on the wall.
My father warned us that slander is murder.  He made that statement because he understood that if you ruin a person’s reputation, you kill his influence, and if you kill his influence, he is, in effect, dead to everyone around him.  My father didn't know T. S. Eliot’s Prufrock, but he was an astute observer of life, and he saw how often and how easily an envious soul can leave others, even innocent people, “pinned and wriggling on the wall”.  Their pointed words pin souls on the wall of people’s minds, and then leave them there to wriggle a bit before the struggle exhausts them, and they die.
Reputation can be a deadly thing.  If someone you know dies the slow, agonizing death of a ruined reputation, be very sure that you are not the one who pinned him with it.  God has promised that He will destroy whoever slanders another (Ps. 101:5), and for that reason, we know that Solomon was wise to say that whoever dares to be a slanderer is a fool (Prov. 10:18).

Sunday, August 16, 2015

What God Sees

Hey Brother John,
I was reading the story of Gideon in Judges, and I have a question.
Judges 6:12-14: “And the angel of the Lord appeared unto him, and said unto him, The Lord is with thee, thou mighty man of valor.  And Gideon said unto him, Oh my Lord, if the Lord be with us, why then is all this befallen us?  and where be all his miracles which our fathers told us of, saying, Did not the Lord bring us up from Egypt? But now the Lord hath forsaken us, and delivered us into the hands of the Midianites.  And the Lord looked upon him, and said, Go in this thy might, and thou shalt save Israel from the hand of the Midianites,  Have not I sent thee?”
My question: When the Lord said “Go in this thy might,” what exactly was the word “this” referring to?  Was it his faith that the Lord was in control of every aspect of his life?

Thank you.
Billy H.

Hi Billy.
This portion of scripture from Judges provides us with an interesting scene, and it is one that we can take much from if God opens our eyes.
Did you notice where Gideon was when this angel came to him?  He was hiding from the Midianites behind a winepress as he threshed out a little wheat to make himself some bread.  There he was, so afraid of what the Midianites would do to him that he didn’t even want to be seen threshing wheat, and an angel suddenly appears and calls him a “mighty man of valor”.  We know from that, that God was speaking to the Gideon that He saw, not to the Gideon that anyone else knew – including Gideon himself!
God was about to bring out the Gideon that He alone could see, and then use that Gideon to deliver Israel.  The “might” that was in Gideon’s heart was his faith in the God that he had heard about, the God that had been testified about by his ancestors.  Gideon believed in that God, and he loved that God, but where was He?  Gideon wanted to know Him, but where was He?  That was Gideon’s question.  Nevertheless, Gideon believed in that God, and that genuine faith was the “might” that made Gideon a “mighty man of valor”, and man whom God would use to save His people.
How does God see us?  We may be in hiding, like Gideon, and oppressed, as Gideon and Israel were, but what does God see?  If God sees faith in His Son, and love for the truth, he will use us to bless His people.  And like Gideon, it doesn’t matter to God whether we can see ourselves doing that; it only matters what he sees.

Thanks for the question, Billy.

Pastor John

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Being Angry Is Not Sin

And the next day, as they came from Bethany, he grew hungry.  And seeing in the distance a fig tree with leaves, he went to it, if perhaps he might find something on it.  But when he went to it, he found nothing but leaves, for it was not time for figs.  And Jesus answered and said to it, “Let no one ever eat fruit from you again!”  And his disciples were listening. . . . And when it was evening, he went out of the city.  And early in the morning, as they passed by, they saw the fig tree withered from the roots.  And Peter remembered and said to him, “Rabbi, look!  The fig tree that you cursed is dried up!”  And Jesus answered and said to them, “Have faith in God.”
Mark 11:12–14, 19–22

In this scene with the fig tree, we see Jesus so angry with God’s people that he acted irrationally.    It was not the season for fig trees to bear fruit; this tree was doing exactly what it was created to do; it was in the process of producing fruit at the time God created it to produce fruit.  In spite of that, Jesus cursed the tree, and it died.  What had men done to provoke Jesus to this extent?
The day previous to this, Jesus had ridden triumphantly into Jerusalem and then visited the temple of God.  It was what he saw there, the buying and selling in particular, that infuriated him.  All that night, he must have replayed the scenes he had witnessed in the temple, and this morning, he was on his way back to the temple, where he would go on a rampage, overturning the tables and seats of the merchants and money-changers, driving the livestock out of the temple complex, and even forbidding anyone to carry anything through the temple area.
But on the way to do all that, he grew hungry, and there, by the road, stood the hapless fig tree.  The men in the temple were blessed that Jesus did not curse them instead, that he took the worst of his wrath out on a tree instead of them.
An amazing element of this fig tree story is that, even though Jesus was so angry that he cursed and killed the fig tree for not having figs, even though it was not the season for figs, it was not sinful for Jesus to do that!  Jesus did no sin; the Bible is very clear about that.  Yet, he did some things that many probably would have condemned as sinful, based on human ideas of sinfulness.  God’s thoughts truly are not our thoughts.
This story of Jesus’ anger, and his acting on it, is encouraging.  It tells us that we, too, are free to feel righteous anger, as Jesus did, without it being sin.  But even more than that, it tells us that we can even act on that anger, as Jesus acted on his righteous anger, and still be sinless in God’s sight.
What the Bible, throughout, shows us is that the godliest men and women who ever lived were real, with the feelings that we ourselves feel, and their stories teach us that those of us who love God are free to act on how we feel and what we think – without being condemned as sinful!  This can be a vexing world, with its pride, malice, lust, and greed.  And as God gives us the grace to see things as they are, be fearless and (when it is time for it) do as Paul exhorted us to do: “Be angry, but do not sin” (Eph. 4:26).

Friday, August 14, 2015

God Promised to Speak

I had never noticed what God was saying to Moses in Exodus 19:9 until this morning as I was reading that part of the Bible.  In that verse, God said that He was going to speak out loud to Moses so all Israel would hear Him speaking.  The point of that, God said, was to help Israel believe in Moses!  He knew that if they believed Moses, they would do what they had to do to receive the great blessing he had promised them!  This happened in the next chapter, when God, in thunderous tones, spoke the Ten Commandments out loud to Moses.  The Israelites, gathered at the foot of Mount Sinai, heard Him speaking.
God's voice was too much for the Israelites, though.  After the tenth commandment was spoken, they backed away from the mountain and pleaded with Moses to go up the mountain and talk to God by himself, and then come back down to tell them what He had said (Ex. 20:18-22; Dt. 5:23-27).  In other words, God had accomplished His purpose, for Israel now trusted Moses, as never before, to speak for God – and God was pleased with that.  All along, God’s goal was for them to receive their blessing, not to show off His powerful vocal chords, and now, with their renewed confidence in Moses, they were more likely to receive it!
I enjoy finding new bits of information in the Bible after all these years of reading it.  Today, my blessing was to discover that God loved Israel so much that He promised Moses that He would speak out loud to him so that Israel would believe him and follow him to the land that God had promised Abraham He would give to his descendants.